Page 7


Cigars, Diplomacy and Jazz ONE WOULD SUPPOSE that living with Bob Sherrill all these years would have taken a psychological toll on her, but Mary Sherrill was probably the only person I know in the world who could spend close to 24 hours a day with that particular spouse and not be in constant ther apy as a result. She not only survived it emotionally and mentally, but she actually thrived on living with someone charitably described by Molly Ivins as “cantankerous.” Visiting them in their home in Washington gave evidence of her gift for diplomacy. She was able to suppress the fractiousness and bring calm to an otherwise raging spouse raging at politicians, suck-up journal ists and editors who had no desire to confront or to anger those in power. Mary was a majority contributor to the Sherrill writing partnership. She not only did a great deal of the research for Bob’s articles and books, but all of the editing and preparation for publication. As Molly Ivins said, “and she can spell.” One of her oldest friends, Harlan Severson, was forever impressed with how she dealt with people socially. He always talked about how she was one of the great conversationalists he had known, uniquely zeroing in on guests with questions about them, making them feel as though they were worth something, and consciously shunning any talk about herself, whether by her, or by her guests. That is a quality that is in extremely short supply in our world. Being independent suited her. She liked smoking cigars, and did so without apologizing and without once trying to boast that she was one of the few American women who dared break the tightly drawn conventions against women who did so. Ever since a friend dropped off some genuine Havanas for her, she craved for more of the forbidden Communist leaf. Oh, I know she had all the training necessary to handle the classical repertoire, but I think most of Mary’s friends will remember her best for the marvels she could produce at the piano with Big Band music and jazz. To see her searching through a stack of old sheet music meant Jim Abourezk was a U.S. Senator from South Dakota and led the fight to prevent Big Oil’s ripoff of consumers in the 1970s. Today he heads one of the major organizations trying to counter discrimination against ArabAmericans. Mary Sherrill, circa 1981 that something memorable was about to happen at the keyboard. But most of all, Mary Sherrill will be remembered as a card-carrying human as well as a humanist -someone with special intelligence, who was clearly genuine, straightforwardly honest, and who possessed one-half of the Sherrill temperament for justice. Not bad for a girl from Mitchell, South Dakota, who lived most of her adult life with an itinerant Texas muckraker. Most people one meets in a lifetime are easily forgettable, and, most often, quickly forgotten. But Mary has touched our lives in a way that would not allow us to forget. For all the friends who knew her and who loved her, her wonderful, uplifting spirit and the value of her life will never be for gotten. Jim Abourezk 18 FEBRUARY 25, 1994